Audio gear at CES 2022: Better bass, bigger batteries, and some surprises
Now 'ear this: We're compiling the standout speakers, headphones, earbuds, soundbars, and more from this year's Consumer Electronics Show.
If you love personal audio, no doubt you are attuned to the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES. Every January in Las Vegas, manufacturers unveil the coming year’s exciting models—upping the specs and anticipation for how you’ll listen in the coming year. It’s one of our favorite weeks and though we can’t experience CES firsthand in 2022, we’ll be covering it closely while reporting remotely. Here are a few of the new and notable products that have had us perk up our ears so far. And check back daily, as we’ll be updating this piece as more gear gets announced.
Noveto N1 3D Audio Smart Speaker
Headphones in the office can be awesome for productivity, but can also potentially be seen as antisocial or eventually get uncomfortable. Noveto wants to solve this problem by enabling you to have a “3D audio invisible headphone.” The N1 smart speaker looks like a compact black-and-silver soundbar and uses a proprietary audio beaming technology that Noveto says creates headphone-free binaural sound that’s 90-percent (20dB) undetectable 1 meter (3 ft) away from the listener, and facial recognition (using a combination of motion sensors and AI) makes sure these ultrasonic audible pockets track and travel just where your ears do. The goal is to offer a way to listen to music, video calls, podcasts, etc., via Wi-Fi (AirPlay)/Bluetooth/USB-C/3.5mm aux port while still staying aware of your surroundings—and not disturbing the office or your housemates. The Noveto N1, which is also microphone-/Alexa-enabled, will be available before the end of Q1 2022.
Belkin SOUNDFORM Immerse Noise-Cancelling Earbuds
Maybe you’ve got a personal iPhone and an Android for work, or vice versa. Maybe you live in a similarly split handset household. And maybe you’re in search of some new earbuds that suit both platforms. Well, then, you’re who Belkin is courting with the company’s new SOUNDFORM Immerse active noise-cancelling earbuds. Three mics per earbud silence the world around while Bluetooth 5.2 support for AAC and aptX HD codecs mean the 12mm dual-layer drivers can push the optimal frequency response regards of the operating system. The 8 hours of playtime for the earbuds plus 28 hours in the charging case, as well as the IPX5 sweatproof and waterproof rating, make sure these can accompany you on all your adventures. And an app featuring adjustable EQ and hybrid ANC/HearThru levels further customizes playback to your environment. And if you’re not sure where they are when you’re getting ready to leave, support for Apple’s Find My network will help you locate them. The Belkin SOUNDFORM Immerse earbuds will be available in white or black during spring 2022 and will cost $179.99.
Cambridge Audio Alva TT V2 Wireless Turntable
Introduced in 2019, the Cambridge Audio Alva TT was a fresh, well, spin on the turntable. It was the world’s first aptX HD Bluetooth turntable, specifically. Now the Alva has seen a refresh, keeping everything good about its advanced resolution 24-bit/48 kHz wireless capabilities and adding an upgrade on the analog side. The Alva TT V2 retains the original’s direct drive system, high-density polyoxymethylene platter, and preinstalled Alva MC (Moving Coil) cartridge, but adds a switchable built-in phono stage on the read panel for those tethering to a stereo amplifier ye olde-fashioned wired way. In addition, the Bluetooth transmitter can now be turned off to shorten the signal path and save energy. Finally, a new tonearm with a detachable headshell makes upgrades easy. The Cambridge Audio Alva TT V2 will be available in a Lunar Grey finish for $1,999. If that’s a little rich for your blood, an “entry-level” model is being launched: the Alva ST, which shares the same built-in phono stage, aptX HD wireless, and tonearm of the TT V2, but is belt-driven with a die-cast aluminum platter and an Audio Technica AT-VM95e moving magnet cartridge preinstalled. That model, available in the same finish, will cost $999.
Exeger Mahyt Self-Powered Speaker Prototype
Swedish company Exeger produces Powerfoyle, a shapeable material that turns all forms of light into energy. For instance, it’s in the headband of the Urbanista Los Angeles self-charging headphones, giving them a practically infinite runtime. Now Exeger has paired with Dutch startup Mayht—developers of a balanced, dual-membrane driver technology they call HeartMotion—to showcase a compact, energy-efficient speaker that can provide full-range sound from a small footprint, running infinitely off a charge the flexible Powerfoyle layer gathers from both natural (sunlight) and ambient (indoor) light. What this could mean is more sound reinforcement within the space constraints of automobiles or thin portable speakers that ditch the volume and weight needed for batteries and multiple drivers, but don’t sacrifice sound. A prototype featuring tech that other brands can integrate into future consumer products is shown here.
Shokz OpenRun Pro Bone Conduction Headphones
The best bone conduction headphones provide the ultimate in situational awareness, but they haven’t always had the most robust sound. Shokz (formerly AfterShokz) is a leader in this type of soundwave delivery—which gets audio to your eardrum through the cheekbone, leaving the ear canal wide open to pick up on conversations, traffic, etc.—and its new OpenRun Pro model addresses a specific shortcoming of bone conduction: a lacking low-end. An upgrade and rebranding of the Aeropex line, the OpenRun Pro features Bluetooth 5.1, an updated app with EQ presets, a 10-hour battery life, and new “TurboPitch” bass transducers to make sure athletes (the primary bone conduction users) will need to cool down before their thumping playlist winds down. The OpenRun Pro is available now in black for $179.95.
JBL Pulse 5 Bluetooth Speaker
JBL has been on the, well, pulse of the wireless party speaker market for years, and the company is doing the annual refreshing of its offerings to keep its poolside place of honor. The upgraded Pulse 5 features a larger passive radiator and acoustic volume so that all-important bass delves deeper, while a woofer for the mids and a new tweeter for highs handle the rest of the frequency range. Both the sound and customizable LED light show are projected in 360 degrees. Bluetooth 5.3 increases connection range and strength, while a 12-hour battery and the IP67 waterproof/dustproof rating make sure the party can safely continue day or night, whether you’re on the beach or in a hot tub. The Pulse 5 will be available in the summer for $249.95.
JBL Boombox 3 Bluetooth Speaker
JBL speakers, like the newly upgraded Pulse 5, can wirelessly pair in stereo or link in multiples thanks to a feature called PartyBoost. But if you’re looking for a single portable that sounds like you brought out dozens of speakers, the new Boombox 3 is more your speed. Having taken the Boombox 2 to backyard BBQs, I can confidently say this is the model for you if you’re looking for acres of audio. The Boombox 3 features a new 3-way speaker system—a racetrack-shaped subwoofer for deeper bass and lower distortion, paired with two midrange drivers and two tweeters for boosted clarity—as well as a battery that can last 24 hours (or be used to charge other devices via USB, even while music plays). Bluetooth 5.3, a redesigned handle, and an IP67 waterproof/dustproof rating let your music mix while you mingle anywhere. It also supports PartyBoost, if too much is never enough for you. The Boombox 3 will be available in black and squad (aka camo, shown) color options in summer for $499.95.
LG S95QR Soundbar
Getting to preselect seats changed the movie theater game; only that first crunch of popcorn was more satisfying than nabbing those perfect center seats. LG wants to bring that prime spot to your living room with its new flagship S95QR soundbar, featuring the world’s first up-firing center speaker. The 810-watt, 9.1.5 system has five up-firing channels total—three on the soundbar and two in the upgraded wireless rear speakers—offering clearer dialogue and a more immersive experience during Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and IMAX Enhanced content. In addition, two-channel music can be upmixed to 7.1 via Meridian Audion’s Horizon technology, variable refresh rate (VRR) and auto low latency mode (ALLM) are supported for console gamers, and Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa let you integrate the S95QR into your smart home.
Shure AONIC 40 Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphones
If you’re looking for a sound signature that’s true to the artist’s intent, let me recommend you a Shure thing. We’re fans of both the Shure AONIC 50 headphones and Shure AONIC 215 (Gen. 2) earbuds and now the brand, well-established in both studio and on stage, has debuted the Shure AONIC 40 wireless noise-cancelling headphones as a more compact, equally comfort-minded complement to the 50. Featuring 40mm drivers and supporting Bluetooth 5.0 (including the AAC, aptX, and aptX HD codecs), the AONIC 40 preserves more of the original recording (audio via USB is also available). And if you want a little more bass or a little less treble, etc, there’s a customizable hardware EQ you can access through the ShurePlus PLAY app (which is also a hi-rez audio player). The adjustable noise-cancelling and calling functions, 25 hours of battery life, and collapsing fold-flat design (with hard-shell carrying case) make these headphones perfect for on-the-go monitoring. The Shure AONIC 40 headphones are available now in white/tan and black for $249.
Technics EAH-A800 Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphones
A Gen X former DJ, I most associate the Technics brand with turntables. But if there’s one thing that’s perfect to get in the mix with two turntables (and a microphone), it’s headphones. Admittedly, the new Technics EAH-A800 isn’t intended for use behind the decks, but if you want to listen to some of your favorite EDM on a long commute it might be perfect. Featuring 40mm drivers with a multi-layer diaphragm in an acoustic control chamber, the EAH-A800 promises to deliver deep, yet precise bass. Bluetooth support for LDAC allows high-resolution wireless playback (with compatible devices) and the 50-hour battery is ready for marathon listening sessions. Add in the active noise-cancelling and you could start listening at midnight Friday and stay wrapped in the music until you emerge at noon on Sunday (just like we all used to at the clubs, right). If you do need to be aware of your surroundings, however, there are modes and mics that let in ambiance, as well as let you take calls (with wind and noise suppression). The Technics EAH-A800 will be available in silver or black, though no timeframe or domestic price has been provided yet.
Mark Levinson No. 5909 Headphones
Mark Levinson/HARMAN International
The Mark Levinson brand is no stranger to audio on the go—of a sort. There are Mark Levinson systems in almost all Lexus models from the last decade. The No. 5909 wireless adaptive active noise-cancelling headphones, however, are the first truly portable luxury product in Mark Levinson’s 50-year history. A pair of these over-ear headphones in hand, I can say the build feels premium but not as worryingly precious as, say, the Apple AirPods Max (which I always fear I’ll dent or tarnish as I take them from their … “case”). The replaceable leather ear cushions are plush, with a snug fit that provides a satisfying amount of passive noise reduction yet avoids the hot spots I’m sadly accustomed to as a glasses wearer. While far from inconspicuous (what good is luxury if you don’t show it off, right), these headphones aren’t the most egregious when it comes to making me feel like I’m a Cyberman when they’re on. Bluetooth 5.1 supports AAC, aptX Adaptive, and LDAC connectivity, and paired with an ASUS ROG Phone 5 the superiority of the high-resolution LDAC codec, the 5909’s internal digital audio converter gave everything I threw at it plenty of room to breathe. Throughout a mix of lossless and advanced resolution files, the 40mm Beryllium-coated drivers exhibited the nimble dynamics that are the material’s trademark, with a tuning (based on the Harman curve) that was tight without feeling restrained—packed with detail but never boomy or blooming, just capable of unfurling when a stalking bassline or coiled riff needs to pounce. If you find you want less of a low-end lift (the Harman curve can push lows and upper-mids/lower treble a tick), a toggle in the Mark Levinson Headphones lets you attenuate (or, conversely, enhance) the subbass region (maybe a treble complement come later). And if you run down the 30-hour battery (or just prefer a specific amp’s sonic character), the No. 5909 is equally, if not more, capable of effortlessly natural (not to be confused with coolly neutral) reproduction when listening through the USB-C to 3.5mm miniplug cable, which supports 24-bit/96 kHz playback with a frequency range of 10-40,000 Hz (well beyond human hearing). I’ll publish a longer review of these in the future. For now, the Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones are available in the automotive gloss-metallic paint colors pearl black, ice pewter, and radiant red (there’s that Lexus nexus again) and cost $999.
JBL 4305P Active Studio Monitors
Sometimes a content creator just wants to be a music lover. And sometimes a music lover wants to be a content creator. The new JBL 4305P powered bookshelf loudspeaker system can be there for both throughout the day and night. Featuring a 1-inch compression driver mated to JBL’s iconic imaging horn, as well as a 5.25-inch woofer in a bass-reflex configuration with front-firing tuning ports, these speakers promise pinpoint accuracy and punchy dynamics (driven by Class D amplifier delivering 25W to each compression driver and 125W to each woofer). Connectivity is as boundless as what you can push through these: combination XLR / ¼-inch TRS phono connectors, asynchronous USB and optical digital inputs, a 3.5mm analog input, Google Chromecast, Apple AirPlay 2, as well as Bluetooth allow up to 24-bit/192kHz high-resolution playback. In a living room you can work around furnishings to find your perfect placement thanks to a wireless (Wi-Fi) connection up to 96kHz, while in a home studio sweet spot you can extend resolution up to 192kHz tethering the speakers with an included 2m Digital Link cable. There’s even a signal-sensing line-level subwoofer output if you need more bounce to the ounce. The JBL 4305P studio monitors will be available in a real wood veneer finish of natural walnut with a blue grille or black walnut with a black grille and will be released in the first quarter of 2022 for $2,200 a pair.
BONUS BEATS: DALI KATCH G2
Technically launched overseas in 2021, the KATCH G2 stereo Bluetooth speaker from DALI (Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries) is being made available in the Americas to coincide with CES. An update to the original KATCH released in 2016, this audiophile-oriented oval packs two sets of drivers—soft dome tweeters and midrange woofers—isolated internally and complemented by two passive radiators to deliver clarity and body throughout the soundstage. The two 25-watt Class D amplifiers, DAC, and integrated DSP EQ (featuring Clear and Warm presets) can run for up to 30 hours off a full charge and Bluetooth 5.0 with AAC/aptX/aptX HD support assures optimal/advanced resolution connectivity. Two KATCH G2 can be paired wirelessly if you want to widen the stereo field or pump up the party (though more can’t be daisy-chained). The KATCH G2 is available in Caramel White, Iron Black, and Chilly Blue and costs $499.99.